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Volume 21 Issue 6 - March 2016

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • April
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Performing
  • Ensemble
From 30 camp profiles to spark thoughts of being your summer musical best, to testing LUDWIG as you while away the rest of so-called winter; from Scottish Opera and the Danish Midtvest, to a first Toronto recital appearance by violin superstar Maxim Vengerov; from musings on New Creations and new creation, to the boy who made a habit of crying Beowulf; it's a month of merry meetings and rousing recordings reviewed, all here to discover in The WholeNote.

somehow unresponsive to

somehow unresponsive to the score…a nonstarter. Easy to understand, as we are so firmly imprinted with the usual bravura performances that anything less energetic sounds injudicious and/or simply wrong. The following week listening again to make sure, I heard a very convincing performance, thoughtful and searching. Lisiecki’s Schumann is so natural and unforced that his playing does not come between composer and listener. Also, I was playing it softly at the “audition” level and now, at a more robust volume, the true character emerged. There are many attributes of this performance; excitement, communication, delicacy and tonal beauty. It is such a perfect blend and unanimity of soloist and orchestra that it sounds as if were executed by one mind. There is cross inspiration between piano and the solo instruments of the orchestra, particularly the creamy winds that, in spite of perfect ensemble, still sound spontaneous. The recording is a model of a naturally balanced soloist and these delectable orchestral textures. The two shorter and less familiar, later-concerted works – Introduction and Allegro appassionato Op.92, Introduction and Concert Allegro Op.134 – receive similarly attentive performances, making this release even more attractive. Time stands still during the little encore, Träumerei, adding a thoughtful adieu on this attractive CD. Bruce Surtees Mahler – Symphony No.6 Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Daniel Harding BR Klassik 900132 !! Daniel Harding makes all the right moves in this new recording of Mahler’s mighty Sixth Symphony, scrupulously following the letter of the score and observing every indicated tempo fluctuation with considerable élan, but what really caught my attention was the magnificent, totally committed playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. It more than compensates for the missed opportunities (particularly in the first movement) for Harding to set his stamp on this work as decisively as a Bernstein or Kubelik. My only frustration is that this recording uses the New Critical Edition of the score, which swaps places between the Andante and Scherzo of the middle movements. Though there are good historical arguments for doing so, musically I prefer Mahler’s original conception. Perhaps in his own performances of the work Mahler found it less taxing for the musicians of the day to perform the slow movement second; or possibly he was keen to stress the traditional symphonic order as a purely musical structure, though it is far more than that. Nonetheless thematically the scherzo serves as a relentless expansion of the previous movement in a relationship consistent with that of the first two movements of his Fifth Symphony. The four movements have been shoehorned into a single disc for this release and the applause excised from the live performances recorded in Munich in March of 2014. The mixing is superb and finely detailed. The booklet oddly features electrocardiac diagrams of the response of the percussion section and the conductor at the second cataclysmic hammer blow of the finale. Big spike from the musicians, flat line from the conductor. That sums it up nicely. As a member of the Vienna Philharmonic once remarked of a certain music director, “We like him. He doesn’t get in the way.” Daniel Foley Bucoliques: French Album III Richard Sherman; Minsoo Sohn Blue Griffin Records BGR 379 (bluegriffin.com) !! Kudos to flutist Richard Sherman and pianist Minsoo Sohn for this selection of little-known music for flute and piano by four more or less forgotten 20th-century composers. Sherman’s readings are disciplined and spirited. Sohn’s, to my ears anyway, somehow capture the French-ness of the music. The title Bucoliques raises questions about the composers, their intentions and the world in which they lived. Neither the lives of the composers, Gabriel Grovlez (1879-1944), Raymond Gallois Montbrun (1918-1994), Louis Durey (1888-1979) and Alfred Desenclos (1912-1971), nor Paris, the city where they lived and worked, were bucolic. “Bucoliques” is borrowed from the title of the work by Desenclos. The program notes suggest that “the classical titles of its movements recall those of 19th-century academic forebears, such as Théodore Dubois, and reflect the academic rigour of his work.” I don’t quite get the connection between Arcadian allusion and academic rigour, although it may reflect a taste for irony and self-deprecating humour! The notes also bring to light something of Desenclos’ approach to composition: “...I do not deny the past on the pretext of creating the future.” The turbulence of Durey’s career is hinted at, with the references to his involvement in left-wing politics and the French Resistance; and we are also told of Montbrun’s rise “to the top of the French musical establishment.” Bucolic or not, their music gives us a glimpse into the ideals and accomplishments of another time, so close and yet so remote. Allan Pulker The French Influence: Music for Trumpet and Piano Gerard Schwarz; Kun Woo Paik Delos DE 1047 !! Celebrated trumpet virtuoso and conductor Gerard Schwarz revisits his roots in this release – a 1971 New York concert with collaborative pianist Kun Woo Paik. Schwarz has woven together an attractive series of works and explained in excellent program notes the interrelated developments of trumpet performance, composition, and manufacture in 19th- and 20th-century France. A limitation is the disc’s length of only 42 minutes. The recording opens with Arthur Honegger’s Intrada, a staple of the trumpet repertoire in which Schwarz demonstrates excellent tone and technique. George Enescu’s Légende is the disc’s highlight for me. Wellknown as a virtuoso violinist, Enescu remains underrated in composition, which he studied with Fauré and Massenet in Paris. The work’s originality shows in an atmospheric and meditative opening, soft trumpet filigree passages, and a complex yet effective piano part. Eugène Bozza’s Caprice is idiomatic to the instrument, as is always the case with this prolific composer. Schwarz is more than equal to sprightly technical passages including challenging triple tonguing, but the duo also capture mysterious Debussy-like flavours elsewhere in the piece, including muted and echoed fanfares. Brief pieces represent other well-known 20th-century French composers: Jacques Ibert (Impromptu) and André Jolivet (Air de Bravoure). The two earlier works on the disc are Theo Charlier’s Solo de Concours and Henri Senée’s Concertino; I particularly like Senée’s composition for the cornet, especially the Romance movement, whose attractive melody is capped with a sudden pianissimo climax that Schwarz achieves impeccably. Roger Knox MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Ives – Symphonies Nos.3 & 4; Unanswered Question; Central Park in the Dark Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot Seattle Symphony SSM1009 (seattlesymphony.org) !! Charles Ives had a beautiful musical mind, far ahead of his time. In my youth I watched a televised performance by Stokowski with the American Symphony of Ives’ 70 | March 1, 2016 - April 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

Symphony No.4 (1910-16). Each subsequent hearing magnifies my appreciation of this masterpiece. Conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony seem comfortable with the work’s contradictions. Ethereal high strings evoke night uncannily in the short Prelude yet orchestral interruptions are harsh; meanwhile a hopeful chorus sings the hymn Watchman. Is it right to have all of this going on? Ives would say, “Sure – why not?” Then a complex movement, Comedy, goes much further. It opens with quarter-tone string glissandi, the quiet soon intruded on by other material including marches and full brass, sentimental tunes, a piano waltz and a violin solo, often with different simultaneous tempi. Conductor, orchestra and engineer still manage to keep everything in balance in this musical funhouse! The following strict hymntune-based Fugue could not contrast more vividly. In the visionary Finale, despite diverse interruptions, Morlot maintains the unifying sense of a parade bookended by percussionalone passages that emerge from and return to silence. The classics The Unanswered Question (1908) and Central Park in the Dark (1898- 1907) receive scrupulous, loving treatment, with impeccable intonation. In Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting” (1901 - 14) a different side of Ives appears, as turn-of-thecentury classical music language combines seamlessly with nineteenth-century American hymnody; this recording presents a persuasive case for the result. Roger Knox Prokofiev – Symphonies Nos. 4, 6, & 7; Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5 Alexei Volodin; Sergei Babayan; Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev Mariinsky MAR0577 !! The Swiss composer Arthur Honegger once claimed that Prokofiev would “remain the greatest figure of contemporary music.” These were strong words of praise indeed and whether or not one agrees, this splendid two-disc set on the Mariinsky label offers the listener ample opportunity to decide. The collection is the first in a series the label is issuing to honour the 125th anniversary of Prokofiev’s birth and features the piano concertos Four and Five and symphonies Four, Six and Seven, appropriately performed by the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre with soloists Alexei Volodin and Sergei Babayan all under the direction of Valery Gergiev. The set opens with the Piano Concerto No.4 for the left hand, music completed in 1931, and the second concerto written for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in the Great War (Ravel had provided the first). The opening movement – the first of four – is sprightly and virtuosic, with Alexei Volodin easily handling the technical demands for the left hand that would challenge all but the most competent of artists. An expansive and introspective second movement follows a quirky Moderato before a lickety-split finale where soloist and orchestra prove a formidable pairing. The Fifth Concerto from 1932 also presents considerable technical challenges. Its five brief movements are true studies in contrasts, from the cheeky and extroverted opening to the calm Larghetto. Throughout, Sergei Babayan’s dexterity and keyboard style are much in evidence; the virtuosic demands are conveyed with great finesse. Judging from the relatively small number of recordings of the Symphony No.4 – originally composed in 1930 but expanded 17 years later – it would seem to be the most underappreciated of all seven symphonies. The light and playful mood attests to its origins in the ballet The Prodigal Son on which it was based. Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra provide a spirited and thoroughly convincing performance, bringing together a wealth of timbres and colours. Symphony No.6 was completed in 1947 and has long been regarded as the darker twin of the more optimistic No.5. Nevertheless, Gergiev draws a sensitive performance from the orchestra throughout the solemn march-like opening movement, the anguished and lengthy Largo and the optimistic and rambunctious Vivace, performed with panache. To a degree, the ballet spirit is also found in Symphony No.7 from 1952. The gracious second movement waltz and elegiac andante are further enhanced by the warmly resonant strings, while the spirited finale seems meant to be danced to! A surprisingly placid ending brings the symphony – and the set – to a satisfying conclusion. In all, these are exemplary performances and the collection is destined to be a staple in the catalogue. Richard Haskell social sounds Catherine Lee Teal Creek Music TC-2035 (catherinemlee.com) !! The difficulty and excitement of a solo instrumental performance arises from the fact that the entire sound envelope is, from beginning to end, from top to bottom, exposed. A note’s attack, its approach towards silence, the sound of keys, the performer’s breath – all these come under the listener’s scrutiny, amplified by the surrounding stillness. On social sounds, Portland oboist Catherine Lee, instead of merely navigating these choppy waters, makes them her destination. Almost all of the pieces feature an improvisatory aspect, tools which Lee uses to prod the boundaries of her instrument’s sound. The first such piece presented here is Jérôme Blais’ Rafales. Scored for solo oboe and piano with depressed sustain pedal, the work is this disc’s standout. Inspired by the composer’s encounters with Nova Scotian wind, Blais supplies the performer only with loosely defined long-tone gestures, leaving their lengths at the performer’s discretion. These, combined with the timbral shifts caused by the choreographed movement of the oboe in relationship to the microphone, result in a gripping tension: Lee’s tone, at first pushed and pulled along its edges, finally disintegrates into the murk of sympathetic vibrations with the piano. A similar effect is achieved in Emily Doolittle’s Social sounds from whales at night, only here it’s improvised timbral fingerings and pitch bends which cause the tension, and pre-recorded whale sounds rising to the ocean’s surface which give release. The sum of these is a CD as compelling as it is eminently listenable. Elliot Wright Mangabeira Trio Virado Soundset Recordings SR1075 (triovirado.com) !! Trio Virado was created after member guitarist João Luiz heard the Leo Brouwer piece Paisajes, Retratos y Mujeres in a Brazilian concert at the Leo Brouwer Festival. So enthralled was the musician with its successful instrumentation that he asked his manager to bring flutist Amy Porter and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez together for a concert of this piece and Luiz’s arrangement of three Astor Piazzolla tangos. The musical chemistry clicked with a permanent trio, more concerts, more pieces and this debut release. The unusual instrumentation works as each instrument and each performer can convincingly take on lead or accompaniment roles in various styles. The above-mentioned Brouwer piece is given a clear, energetic performance in its subtle three note ideas, unison sections and stylistic shifts from Renaissance to minuet dance rhythms. Likewise the three Luiz-arranged Piazzolla tracks are spirited, tight, rhythmic, and true to the bandeonist/ composer’s musical vision. The other three works by Sergio Assad, Hermeto Pascoal and Luiz are well-played good pieces in a more popular music genre – for example Luiz’ theme and variations work Todas as Manhas draws on the familiar Luiz Bonfa song Manha de Carnaval, and showcases the trio’s ability thewholenote.com March 1, 2016 - April 7, 2016 | 71

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